Saturday, June 23, 2012

Composers Datebook for June 23, 2011




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Saturday, June 23

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William Grant Still's rain-delayed premiere

A New Yorker scanning the music pages of The Times for June 23, 1940, might have caught a headline announcing a new work by the American composer William Grant Still scheduled for its premiere the following day at an open-air concert by the New York Philharmonic at Lewisohn Stadium. As luck would have it, storm clouds postponed the premiere until June 25th.

Figurative storm clouds were also on the horizon that summer. Still's new piece was to be part of a musical program on the theme of democracy, a topic much on the minds of Americans troubled by the war then underway in Europe.

But Still's new piece dealt with domestic violence. Entitled "And They Lynched Him on a Tree," it was a choral setting of a poem describing the aftermath of a racially-motivated killing.

A crowd of 13,000 attended the Lewisohn Stadium program, with the New York Philharmonic conducted by Artur Rodzinski, and singers from the New York Schola Cantorum and Wen Talbert Negro Choir.

William Grant Still himself was not present. In the summer of 1940 he was still working for the film industry out in Hollywood. In 1943, he would resign from a lucrative studio contract, in part to protest the depiction of African-Americans in a new film starring Lena Horne, Cab Calloway and Fats Waller, a film titled, rather ironically, "Stormy Weather."

Music Played on Today's Program:

William Grant Still
(1895 - 1978):
And They Lynched Him on a Tree
Plymouth Music Series Singers;
Leigh Morris Chorale;
Philip Brunelle, cond.
Collins Classics 14542

Additional Information:

On William Grant Still
More on Still

About the Program
Composers Datebook is a daily program about composers of the past and present, hosted by John Zech.

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